Part XIII

Sunday, 11 November 2007 18:09
montagnarde1793: (Je voudrais te dire...)
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Page 11

                Six months after the death of Robespierre, I was one of three to visit the last remains of a man who had held all France at his feet; the others were a woman in black, and a man, whose face was careworn. The woman in mourning, whom I knew well, was Robespierre’s betrothed. The man, an unknown disciple, was devoured with remorse for not having followed his master to the tomb. By chance the three of us would occasionally meet before the gate. We would exchange a few words then. But these brief occasional meetings did not suffice us. Soon it appeared good and proper for us to gather around a few relics, that we might better evoke the memory of him whom the vigilance of spies constrained us to mourn in secret. Our hearts were full of him, but as our memories touched separate phases of his life, the outline of his character assumed a different aspect for each of us. I alone, perhaps, of all three knew there were both weakness and tenderness in Maximilien. Certain confessions are made only when hearts are young.

                So did lover, disciple and friend share these sad pleasures. Forced to fuse our impressions, we no longer tried to keep them separate, but let them unite in a single image. The life of Maximilien Robespierre, which I now write, occasionally seems to me a memorial of these reunions, in which our pious faith fought the eternal shadows for this orphan of Arras, this penniless deputy, this statesman.

 

Page 127

                […] Meanwhile, I walked along with Maximilien toward the cabinetmaker’s house. One of Duplay’s daughters, Mlle. Éléonore, waited for us with a light.

 

Page 133

                The salon of the cabinetmaker was well-filled. Mme. Duplay stood at the end of the room near the harpsichord between her two daughters, Elizabeth [Élisabeth] who was called Babet and Éléonore who was called Cornélie.

 

Page 142

                Danton ridiculed Maximilien’s nightly gatherings, which he called a “Walpurgisnacht of Spanish-American Jesuits”; Éléonore Duplay he dubbed “Cornélie Copeau.”

 

Page 156

                CHAPTER TEN

 

                Madame Duplay lived only for her lodger. It is probable that she admired him less as a statesman than she did as an irreproachable guest. For aside from his fame, Maximilien was endowed with those virtues of civility, exactitude, and sobriety, which ever bourgeois French mother seeks in a son-in-law. The good woman believed, and frankly admitted, that Maximilien would have been a paragon of husbands.

                This opinion was also shared, to perhaps even a greater degree, by the cabinetmaker himself, though his hopes had something more of pride in them. The marriage of his daughter Éléonore to the Incorruptible would have carried this pure Jacobin to the pinnacle of happiness. Less sanguine than Madame Duplay, he feared to abandon himself to his fond ambitions, though Maximilien, without involving himself one way or the other, did nothing which might discourage them.

                In truth, Duplay could hope without appearing ridiculous. For inasmuch as he owned three houses, one on the Rue des Mathurins, another on the Rue de l’Arcade, and a third on the Rue du Luxembourg, his daughter would not have made a bad match. Furthermore, his daughters placed, as it is said, “certain hopes in their uncles.” Had he been less smitten by politics and less desirous of allying himself to the powerful men of the time, Duplay would not have had any trouble in marrying his daughters well. Elizabeth in marrying Lebas [Le Bas] was to be the first to experience the pleasure of the hymen. Her elder sister waited without bitterness.

                Éléonore Duplay, or Cornélie as her family called her, was twenty-one [twenty-three] years old. She is still living [in 1825]. She passes through my memory like a sweet and mournful shadow.

                Unhappy Éléonore, betrothed and bereaved, an old woman with the past of an unhappy child, I wonder about you, about those thirty years you have borne your dear secret amid hate and maledictions. I think of you, pale lover, faithful and lonely friend; I think of our meetings at the moldering graveyard of Errancis, and the remembrance of your face revives the sorrows of my old heart…

                Her features were regular and peaceful, full of the unassuming grace of a young bourgeoise. Though she loved and admired Maximilien, doubtless more respect than passion entered into her feeling for him. Nothing in the Incorruptible could inspire frivolity. Though he was no Lothario, there was something about his figure, his elegance, and his good breeding, which was extremely attractive. Though certain envious people have denied it, women were fond of him and many a one dreamed of sharing his perilous glory. When he spoke before the Club or the Assembly, women filled the galleries and greeted his oratory with enthusiastic applause.

                “And there are some,” Condorcet wrote maliciously, “who ask why there are always so many women hanging round Robespierre: at his house, in the galleries of the Jacobins and of the Convention. It is because this revolution of ours is a religion, and Robespierre is leading a sect therein. He is a priest at the head of his worshippers; his power rests on distaffs.”

                This kind of success enraged Maximilien’s rivals, who called his admirers “greasy skirts.” But Danton refused to believe Robespierre had any success with women. Jeering at his engagement to “Cornélie Copeau,” he accused him of sleeping with old women.

                But whether young or old, whatever age they were, Maximilien’s attention was directed elsewhere. I hardly dare say what I really believe about him, in an age like ours where chastity passes as a subject for stupid jokes. Nevertheless it is true that Maximilien was chaste to the point of prudery. Did he not have a falling out with Camille Desmoulins over a trifling matter concerning some obscene books? If all my opinions on the matter were asked, I should be rash enough to hazard the statement that Robespierre had never known love beyond a mild and sentimental feeling of gallantry.

                What sentiment did he experience for Éléonore? People have never tired of asking me this question. Shall I try to answer? I shall not, for I know nothing about it. Robespierre refrained from confidences as being the lowest kind of familiarity. He observed an unbelievable modesty, and the audacity of asking him questions concerning his affections never occurred to anyone.

                Toward Éléonore he displayed a friendship which, though it was constant and tender, was at the same time a little distant. His attitude was that of an older brother. But as he was thirteen [ten] years old her than she, this can be explained by the difference in their ages. Moreover, those who were intimate with Robespierre attribute his coldness to other reasons. He was overworked. His duties and his struggles absorbed him entirely; he lived for his country, and those few moments when duty permitted him to dream were filled with the hopes and doubts of his high ambition.

                Yet it is certainly true that he meant to marry Mlle. Duplay. He considered it a point of honor not only to fulfill all his promises but to satisfy desires he had not discouraged. Never in my presence did he ever make the slightest allusions to his betrothal, which by the Duplays was considered a thing concluded but deferred. Until when? The question contained its own reply. Robespierre’s marriage to his host’s daughter would in all certainty have crowned his final triumph. But until this triumph came, nothing would deter him, neither preliminary bonds, nor financial embarrassment. Nevertheless, the couple might have profited by the political retreat Maximilien made during the session of the Legislative Assembly. But they waited until the political struggles had ended. In the blaze of his triumph two years later, Maximilien again deferred his marriage, as if he still awaited a higher, a more complete, a more indestructible victory. But what victory? Let us abandon this enigma to the reflection of those who, believing they love and defend Robespierre, fear for his memory the majestic horror of the dictatorship.

 

Page 165

 

                CHAPTER TWELVE

 

                On the twenty-first of January, 1793, a little before nine o’clock in the morning, mother Duplay at a sign from Maximilien covered up the linen she was bleaching with wood-ashes in the courtyard. After wiping her hands on her apron, she slowly climbed the stairs to the room on the second floor which overlooked Rue Saint-Honoré. There she was her two daughters seated before a window, scraping linen to make lint for bandages.

                “Come downstairs, my dears,” said Mme. Duplay. “You can do that as well in the salon as you can here.”

                Elizabeth and Éléonore looked up with surprise, but as obedient and sensible daughters they followed out their mother’s instructions in silence.

 

Page 167

                […] Mlle. Duplay, who was alarmed and puzzled by all the excitement, came out of the salon.

                “Father,” she exclaimed, “what’s the matter? Why these precautions?”

                “Your father is right,” said Maximilien. “Something is about to happen which you must not see.”

 

Page 182

                […] If my memory is correct it was in the month of January, 1793, that M. Buonarotti,[1] the descendant of Michel Angelo, appeared among us for the first time. He was a musician. Many times thereafter he sang the songs of Mehul [Méhul] and Gossec for us, in his warm and sonorous Italian voice, while Éléonore accompanied him on the harpsichord.

 

Page 184

                Then on the Rue Saint Honoré a battle like that between a priest’s maid and his sister started between Charlotte and Maximilien’s future mother-in-law. It was a battle of smiles, of daggers, and of honeyed treachery. Goodhearted Duplay tried in vain to restore peace. Éléonore took her mother’s side.

 

Page 254

                He went back to the Duplays’. That evening he was to read his speech to the Jacobins. In the interval, to relax, he went for a stroll in the Champs-Élysées. Éléonore went with him. It was a warm, luminous evening. The sun purpled the horizon toward Chaillot, with a deluge of blood and flame. Éléonore, pressing close to her fiancé, said:

                “It will be fine weather tomorrow.”

                Maximilien made no response.



[1] M. Buonarotti now lives an exile in Bruxelles. 1825

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